Stuff that matters

Skinny dip

Trump’s “skinny budget” may slash EPA funding even more than previously reported.

The White House’s first budget outline, released last month, called for a 24 percent cut to EPA’s budget. Now a 31 percent cut is being proposed as part of the Trump administration’s latest budget plan, which will be released on Thursday, the New York Times reports.

So if Trump gets his way, EPA’s annual budget will shrink from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion — its lowest level in 40 years, accounting for inflation.

Even EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — who tried to hamper the agency by filing more than a dozen lawsuits against it while he was Oklahoma attorney general — doesn’t want cuts that big. According to the Times, he pushed for $7 billion for the agency. Axios reports that Pruitt was particularly concerned about maintaining funding for cleanup of brownfields and other toxic sites.

Former EPA chief Gina McCarthy said earlier this month that a 24 percent cut would be “devastating for the agency’s ability to protect public health.” A 31 percent cut would be more devastating still.

Trump’s plan is not a done deal, though. Budgets must be passed by Congress, and this one is getting some negative reactions from both sides of the aisle, so it won’t sail through as proposed.

Liar, liar, forest fire

Want to stop wildfires? Try logging, says Utah official.

Republican State Rep. Mike Noel said this week that “tree huggers” were to blame for a major blaze that broke out in southern Utah on June 17 and continues to burn 11 days later.

His reasoning? The fire wouldn’t have spread if federal forest lands had been cleared of dead, bug-infested trees, and environmentalists and the federal government were getting in the way of that deed.

“When we turn the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny lovers and the tree huggers and the rock lickers, we’ve turned our history over,” Noel said.

Experts say that getting rid of the dead trees wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Noel’s argument ignores flame-inducing factors like climate change, drought, and unpredictable winds, Steve Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, told AP.

The wildfire has forced the evacuation of 1,500 residents, burned down 13 homes, and raged through nearly 50,000 acres of land near Brian Head, the town where the fire began.

“If we’re looking for someone to blame, there isn’t anyone,” U.S. Forest Service researcher Mark Finney told AP. “Forests burn.”


Scott Pruitt muddies up the Clean Water Act.

The EPA administrator turned to semantics in the Trump administration’s latest move to undermine Obama-era environmental policy.

The Clean Water Act, which dates to 1972, protects the “waters of the United States.” WOTUS is basically the government’s attempt to define what comprises the national water system. Problem is: No one knows exactly what waters are included.

The distinction seems clear when you look at extremes (the Mississippi is, a puddle is not), but what about raging whitewater that kayakers bounce down in spring, but goes dry in the summer? There are 2 million miles of these intermittent streams in the continental U.S., and they exist in a legal grey zone and have a huge effect on the country’s water quality.

Obama tried to find a workable definition, after a Supreme Court decision in 2006 only confused the matter. Pruitt is now throwing out Obama’s clarification.

Republicans tied up Obama’s WOTUS rule in court, labeling it a grand conspiracy to exert big government control over their puddles. It wasn’t — it was just the EPA’s attempt to deal with the Supreme Court handing it the legal equivalent of a rabid raccoon.

Now Pruitt and Trump get to wrangle with that raccoon.

Say what?

Trump’s comments to tribal leaders will make you scratch your head.

Has President Trump been reading his own executive orders? Given what he said to Native American leaders and state officials in a meeting on Wednesday, we’re not so sure:

It’s an interesting statement, given that tribal leaders have said Trump’s executive order in January to expedite construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline was an infringement on tribal sovereignty.

The controversial project runs under the Missouri River, the main water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Former President Obama had paused construction for environmental review. Just two weeks ago, a court ruled that Trump’s rushed approval process violated the law.

At Wednesday’s meeting with tribal leaders, Trump said that he wanted to create jobs “like you’ve never seen before” for energy development on Native lands. “For too long, the federal government has put up restrictions and regulations that put this energy wealth out of reach … We’re going to put it back in your hands.”

Historian Michalyn Steele has noted that the federal government has typically recognized tribal sovereignty only when it favors its own interests. Trump’s recent comments suggest his administration intends to do the same.

Standing Rock

A state agency filed a complaint against the security company that tracked and targeted DAPL opponents.

North Dakota’s Private Investigative and Security Board says TigerSwan has been operating in the state without a license since last year, when Energy Transfer Partners hired the private paramilitary firm founded by a special forces veteran.

The official allegation comes several weeks after Grist and The Intercept separately reported on leaked internal documents showing that TigerSwan had launched an intrusive military-style surveillance and counterintelligence campaign against anti-Dakota Access Pipeline activists and their allies.

Last fall and again earlier this year, the security board denied applications from TigerSwan’s founder, James Patrick Reese, to become a licensed security provider in North Dakota. TigerSwan “illegally” continued to operate in the state anyway, the board’s attorneys allege in a 68-page complaint dated June 12 and filed this week. Those operations included “roving security teams” and monitoring protesters and their allies, the board says. (Read the complaint here.)

Under North Dakota state law, providing private investigative or security services without a license is considered a misdemeanor. The security board is seeking an injunction against TigerSwan and Reese in state court and asking for administrative fines for the alleged violations.

According to the complaint, which includes copies of some of the same TigerSwan “situation reports” obtained and published by Grist and The Intercept, the company provided flyover photography of the protests to Energy Transfer Partners, coordinated with local law enforcement, and placed or attempted to place undercover agents among the self-described water protectors, among other tactics. The complaint alleges that some of those efforts are ongoing.

rock bikini bottom

A Czech nuclear plant staged a bikini contest to hire its next intern.

An actual swimsuit contest pitted 10 high school grads against each other as they posed for photos at the Temelin Nuclear Power Station.

According to Temelin’s Facebook post, which has since been taken down, the woman whose photo got the most likes would earn the title of “Miss Energy 2017” as well as a two-week internship with the company.

“We think the photographs are very tasteful,” the company commented on the post.

Others disagreed. “The competition is absolutely outside the bounds of ethics,” Petra Havlíková, a lawyer for human rights and an equal opportunities adviser, told a Czech news site.

Temelin apologized for the competition and offered an internship to all 10 of the finalists.

“Only in Europe!” you might be thinking, shaking your head in disbelief. Not so. Across the United States, young women compete in beauty pageants sponsored by fossil fuel companies to vie for titles like Miss Oil Patch, Miss Coal Queen, and Princess Flame.

But Is It Art

Humans have been exploiting the world for so long that there’s a museum about it.

The new Museum of Capitalism in Oakland, California, explores “the ideology, history, and legacy of capitalism.” Surprise! One of the most detrimental legacies of capitalism is … climate change.

Bear with us (and the museum’s curators): The fossil fuel production that drives climate change is due to global (read: American) desire for profit and growth.

The museum — funded largely through a grant from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation — exhibits several works examining how humans despoil the environment in our quest for more things. Some are simple, like a bright blue baseball cap emblazoned with “COAL = JOBS” in white, akin to the ubiquitous MAGA accessory.

“American Domain,” an exhibit curated by Erin Elder (below), explores the ways in which land in the U.S. has been “continually staked and claimed.” Photographs of the Mexican-American border hang alongside images of drilling equipment, suggesting inconsistency in the United States’ attitude toward borders when it comes to fossil fuel access versus immigration.

“American Domain”Brea McAnally/Brea Photography

In another section of the museum, a video by Kota Takeuchi shows a worker undertaking cleanup of the Fukushima disaster. The worker slowly points at the audience through the camera lens, a designation of blame lasting over 20 minutes.

It’s a succinct gesture that gets to the point of the whole museum: We’re all complicit.